Allegations of Sexual Abuse
In primary and early childhood education, support for male teachers is at an all time low according to education researcher Dr Sarah Farquhar.
NZEI as the union for teachers of young children should be telling teachers to resist the moral panic concerning physical contact with children and it should be playing a leading role in rehabilitating the negative image that surrounds being a male teacher.
Dr Farquhar reported in a 1997 study of male teacher experiences and female teacher perceptions of male teachers that fear of being falsely accused of child abuse was one of the leading reasons why men were reluctant to enter and stay in kindergarten and childcare teaching. NZEI did not agree with the research, stating that only low wages and status were the key issues.
In April of 1998, John Edgar, a primary school teacher accused of touching the genitals of seven boys was acquitted by a Hamilton District Court judge. Edgar appeared on national television and warned men that the risks of being a teacher were too great, and he advised those already in teaching to get out.
Last week Levin teacher Michael Neville was acquitted of four indecent assault charges. NZEI stated in its press release that the case shows the potential vulnerability of teachers in the education system and highlights an occupational hazard, faced in particular by male teachers.
"Male teachers should not hear from their union that they have to accept and manage claims of child abuse as a likely workplace hazard', said Dr Sarah Farquhar.
"If male teachers don't accept this bias and if they don't want barriers to physical contact with children during the normal course of their work then they are left with no alternative but to swiftly get out of teaching altogether or to move into a management position. This is a disastrous state of affairs for the profession. And it is harmful to children who need teachers who are happy, engaged, have a strong sense of commitment and who they can trust and rely on to be there for them in the playground and in the classroom.
NZEI issued a press release in 1999 stating that the union's then 'Code of Conduct: Physical with Children' was necessary because of instances when a teacher's innocent actions were misconstrued. NZEI was critical of Dr Farquhar's comments on the Code fuelling teacher fear of being accused of child abuse and affecting their ability to respond appropriately and timely to children.
Dr Farquhar said that it appears from NZEI's website that the Code has received further revision but NZEI's position remains firm that any physical contact with students presents a risk to the teacher. "This is a negative position focused on outlining what teachers shouldn't do. It does nothing to dispel the fears of teachers, or the distrust of male teachers in particular. And it has proven to be an ineffective way of preventing any teacher intent on abusing a child from doing so".
"I hope that as NZEI reviews the case of Mike Neville and considers the implications for the union's members that it will also consider the implications for children and for the whole profession of continuing to take a defensive and reactive, case by case, approach to the problem".